Inside a changing juvenile court system - CBS46 News

Inside a changing juvenile court system

Posted: Updated:
(Source: WGCL) (Source: WGCL)

Douglas County juvenile Judge Peggy Walker presides over cases involving children from babies to 18-years-old.

"Every time you decide where a child sleeps, it changes their lives forever,” Walker told CBS46.

CBS46 gained unprecedented access to juveniles in Douglas County courtrooms, spending a year documenting what is happening behind the closed, and sometimes sealed cases.

On the first day of shooting, CBS46 captured Walker presiding over a dozen cases all before noon.

While juvenile court resembles many other courtrooms across the country, a significant difference is who participates in the proceedings.

"Things are different now. Children are parties to the case,” said Walker. “They have lawyers, guardians to assist them in making it as easy as possible."

Children participating in their cases is not the only change that's taken place in Georgia's juvenile courts.

For decades, child advocates complained too many young people were being pushed into the juvenile justice system for non-violent offenses, like truancy, school fights, petty theft and just plain acting out.

That too is changing.

Judges are turning to alternative and diversion programs that are proving to help in keeping kids out of the correctional system. This, after Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed landmark legislation to improve the state’s juvenile justice system.

The focus now is what is best for the children.

“We spend a lot of time trying to change the behavior, but not understanding its origins,” Walker said. 

And many times what causes children to appear in court in the first place is as complicated as the cases.

Walker says the hope is that every decision made here impacts a young life, every day.

Copyright 2017 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved. 

Connect with CBS46